The high dive represents a rite of passage. Mine was at Jack Carter pool in Plano,
Texas, but regardless of where you grew up,
the high dive at the community pool terrorized your small, but important,
youthful world. You gazed for months with
envy at the other children carelessly flipping, tossing, and cannon-balling
over the edge of the scratchy white platform suspended at an unimaginable
height. You carefully calculated the
steps, envisioned yourself being one of them, and finally decided that it was
your time. But as your tiny feet slapped
water on the burning concrete determined to join the ranks, your palms started
sweating and doubt filled your mind.
Questions raced through you like scrolling credits of a movie: What if I fall? What if I hurt myself? And most importantly – What if I do both and everyone laughs at me? As you approach the looming metal ladder with
steps that lead to heaven, your safety-net pulls too hard. With the cartoon devil and angel on your
shoulder tormenting your little brain, you decide to wait for a more opportune
time to risk embarrassment. Slinking
back to the shallow end of the pool you disappointingly sit in the shimmering
water with ego still safely intact.
That was me. But it wasn't a pool and I wasn't ten. I was approaching my mid-30s. For more than a year, I watched the skinny Dutch women perch elegantly on the backs of their boyfriends' bicycles, riding through the picturesque town of Leiden. Their legs crossed at the ankles, heeled boots pointing daintily at the street, and carefully draping their arm around the waist of the man pedaling. With the longing of an adolescent, I wanted to be one of them. It looked so fun, so
romantic, and so. . . free of physical exertion for the lady! Most lovers are not hanging out during the
hours of and – it’s mostly a bakfiets (mini-van
bike) crowd at that time. I had seen the
skill required to hop on the back of a bike only a few times – and the running,
giggling girls gave me doubt as to my abilities to replicate the same
move. It required the first person to
start pedaling in order to balance the bike, and the rider to complete a series
of steps and then hop sideways onto the luggage rack on the back. The footwork reminded me of a basketball
lay-up: step left, right, left, and then hop up! After
time, like any successful athlete, I visualized myself effortlessly completing
the steps. But I had yet to
This stunt was not a
solo effort, and I doubted my teammate’s ability to execute his task. Now I’ve seen the Dutch carry everything from
suitcases, to framed works of art, to Christmas trees one-handed while pedaling
down the bike paths. V had trouble
balancing his bike with a bottle of wine hanging from one handle bar. We are American and that obviously means that
we have acquired no such innate balancing skills over the past 30 years. So thus, my dream had been left unfulfilled,
unwilling to risk the seemingly unattainable feat.
Then we saw an
80-year old man pedaling his side-saddling elderly wife in front of our house a
few weeks ago. If that’s not mockery, I
don’t know what is.
Date night, Saturday
night. We planned to take our
bikes. There’s no place to park, walking
just takes too long, and so it was decided, we’d ride our bikes. As much as I love pedaling my kids around
town, my mini-van bike is as sexy as a vegetable. I purposefully put away my thoughts of ever
wearing a skirt on a date night again. I
know the Dutch cycle with them on, but I just don’t think I’m mentally ready to
pull that one off. We say goodbye to the babysitter and close our
heavy front door. I’m about to unlock my
avocado bike from its spot in the front yard and V gently touches my arm. “You want to try?” he looks at me
suspiciously and raises an eyebrow. “Try
what?” I cock my head to the side, rolling my eyes. “To ride on the back of my bike?” he says
pointedly with a smile. “What? Now!?
No way! I’m not ready!” I reply,
flustered and smoothing my hair. My
hands start sweating and I reflexively look up and down our street to see who
is witnessing this ridiculous exchange.
“Yes! Now – no anticipation. Let’s just do it,” he says, and I meet his
gaze and challenge. He unlocks his bike. Like two kids who jointly agree to a dare but
wither during execution, we glance at each other with questions in our
eyes. “Should we try it first on the
sidewalk?” I ask. “No – look at those
bikes parked all over the place. There’s
not enough room to get through,” he calculates and shakes his head. We gaze up and down our block and wait for a
group of taunting bikes to pass. When
the coast was clear, he bravely pedals into the middle of the road. I trot behind him and just like I had
envisioned, perform the cadence with wobbly style: left, right, left, hop! Within seconds, I realize that I’m flying
through the air with the bravery of my 10-year-old self – I am channeling
through this rite of passage and I’m ecstatic at my courageous, youthful
accomplishment! “Are you on?” V shouts,
disbelieving his own elementary success.
“Yes! Yes I am!” I say with
amazement. We’ve done it! We’re pedaling down the road at a snail’s pace
because, we’re uh, American and V isn’t that fast – but we’re doing it!
We glide through Leiden,
immaturely speeding up at yellow bike stop lights and avoiding left-hand turns
because we don’t want to stop the rhythm of this beautiful moment (and more
importantly, we don’t want to stop the bike which would force us to repeat the
maneuver in front of expert Dutch eyes.)
We lyrically sweep along the now-familiar sights of our hometown: around
windmills, over canals, and through cobbled alleyways. I berate him for attempting to use hand
signals – “Please! Keep both hands on
your handlebars you’re going to make us fall!” we giggle like schoolchildren. Like a home-cooked meal that you didn’t cook
yourself, after pedaling my kids around town for a year – there is nothing more
beautiful and appreciated than seeing the world go by at the relaxing pace of a
cyclist without actually having to cycle.
The ancient shops and houses dance in the rosy glow of sunset as we
smoothly sashay by. I snuggly wrap my
arm around V’s waist and rest my head on his back. “You’re so light!” he says and I smile at the
seamless ease of the moment. I beam at
my crossed ankles and the green high-heeled boots that accent my
European-trimmed, but skinny-jeaned legs.
I reflect as we pass over the shimmering silver canals, maybe I will
wear those skirts I wishfully imported from the U.S.
Shannon & Richard on the steps of Chelsea Town Hall
What No One Tells
the Bride: Your vision, whatever it is –
detailed, general, simple, complex, town hall or Westminster Abby – will be derailed at some point, no
matter the extent you have submerged yourself, and all those around you, into
believing and actuating your fairy tale ceremony and celebration.
I know. Total.
Buzz Kill - at least for all those brides-to-be with hopes of their
perfect wedding day illuminating before their eyes. As for those of us who have already been
through the momentous occasion, I think I hear a giggle and imagine a few head
I flew to London
on Thursday morning to celebrate one of my best friends’ wedding day. Shannon and I went to college together, which
results in a not-too-shabby-15-year-friendship.
She’s lived in the U.K. for seven years and gave me memorable advice
prior to moving overseas: “You will go
to the grocery store and stare. . . not know what the heck this stuff is or
what you’re supposed to do with it. And
I had a leg up. . .at least my packaging was in English.” She shrugged, patted my shoulder and attempted
to console my freshman soul with the wisdom of a senior quarterback.
stresses about making sure there was enough food in the fridge, the wedding
gift was intact, laundry was done, hotel confirmations printed, and hundreds of
other preparation worries disappeared into the horizon upon take-off from
Amsterdam Schiphol, only to be replaced by solo-traveling jitters. I used to travel to unknown cities alone all
the time when I worked for American Airlines – I stumbled upon Leiden while
tagging along with one of V’s business trips a bazillion years ago, thus
prompting the I’m-going-to-live-here-someday-flashforward. I had decided to attend Shannon’s
wedding alone with a peaceful vision of me frolicking carefree through the
streets of London without a
stroller or husband for an entire day.
But all that sunshine slowly shifted to cloudy with chances of showers
once I started to calculate the logistics of navigating the system – train
tickets, tubes, maps, new currency, directions, etc. Once confident with tromping around Japanese
country sides, having a family changed my perspective in ways I never dreamed
possible. There is safety in numbers,
but also unbelievable amounts of stress that come with moving an entourage –
visions of our family lugging a double stroller up and around the stair bridges
of Venice haunt my memory – which
led me to waver in my confidence to successfully run around London
alone. I knew it was going to be okay,
but I didn’t really know.
Upon landing, a
wonderful, beautiful rush came over my entire body like your favorite Old Navy
hoodie. English. Nearly everyone I encounter in The
Netherlands has a superb grasp of English, and I’ve caught on to the key
phrases in Dutch – but to be submersed in a culture where English is the
primary language and spoken without pride or grudge, was fantastic. I purchased my train ticket with the
swiftness of a brushstroke. Without
having to check my map and memory every ten seconds, I relaxed in my train
seat, knowing I wouldn’t miss Victoria
and Vlissingen stations in The
Netherlands just get stuck like taffy on my tongue and prompt confusion in my
head). Wandering around London, I felt
like I was in New York City – with it’s sky scrapers and busy streets – but I
also loved how I had to ask for my bill at Wagamama because, despite how I had
told the waiter that I was “all done” and that the “food was great” and how I
was “ready to go” those key words: Please Bring Me The Bill – were the only
ones that would prompt and actual exit from the building. West meets East. In the end – there is nowhere like London.
Me, Shannon, & Tess
Our friend, Tess
from Texas had flown in for the
ceremony as well. We met her with coffee
in-hand at the international terminal of HeathrowAirport. Reunited, we drove back to Shannon’s
new hometown of St. Albans and spent the entire day on
Friday searching for a basket and tights for her soon-to-be-step-children. Being accustomed to crap-European retailers and
the beat-down that accompanies ANY quest to find ANYTHING you’re looking for, I
quite enjoyed the day. I could empathize
with American-friend Tess, though. She was
an awesome sport, ducking in and out of every store, keeping pace with our
European abilities to walk forever. I
could tell though, in her jet-lagged state, she would have traded one of those
charming English Pubs for a Super Target and after twenty fruitless stores, I
joined in on the mental mind force, with disappointment.
Friday evening was met with a debate about
cottage vs. shepherds pie (Google that one, fans) but either way – it was a
fantastically yummy dinner despite the nomenclature of the dish. Tess and I retired early (relatively? We were
on vacation, you know) to our local hotel in St. Albans
and instructed the grinning youthful hotel clerk of our intensions for our
7-a.m. wake up calls.
Shannon and Richard
planned a wedding ceremony
in Chelsea. “I really wanted , but it was already taken,” she
explained. It was a fabulously intimate
wedding and the entire wedding guest list was instructed to meet them at their
house to travel with the bride and groom in a Hummer Limo to the wedding
ceremony. Not wanting to disappoint, Tess
and I arrived at her house, at ,
empty stomached but fueled on our rations of hotel instant coffee. We were greeted heartily by Shannon’s
family and local friends. “So, are you
nervous?” Tess asked Shannon’s Dad. “Awww.
Naaah,” he responded, in the finest Texan accent the tuxedo would allow.
“This ain’t my first rodeo, you know. . .” and with a wink and a tip of his
imaginary hat, he moseyed on in search of his wife’s arm that he’s held close
to his heart, for nearly 44 years.
Your presence is being requested upstairs!” Shannon’s
mom sang from the staircase. Tess had
just hunted down the coffee maker and dredged the last of the coffee –
literally a shot of grounds – and we smiled at the invitation. “We’re here!
We were just on our way up!” we echoed back our excitement to the
The bedroom was a
mess but Shannon looked beautiful. She took a sip from her coffee cup as we
walked in. “Something Old” the cup said,
and the photo of her groom smiled back at her.
A lovely silver wired ribbon adorned the handle. “Isn’t it cute? Richard wanted to give it to me as a
surprise.” She set the Shannon’s
hairdresser shifted around the tiny space surrounding the bed. She had woken up before dawn to meet Shannon
at her house at and all
efforts had paid off. It was time to put
on the dress.
cup down and studied her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was piled half atop her head while
curled tendrils fell among her pale shoulders.
“I’m so white!” she said. For a
beat, Shannon and I teamed up against our tanned-Texas friend with our mutual
During lunch the day
before Tess and I had predicted Shannon would cry at the
wedding. “No I won’t!” she protested. “Oh yes you will! Do you have waterproof mascara just in case?”
she waved our accusations away with her hand.
She stepped carefully into her dress and I zipped her up. She looked at her reflection in the mirror
and for that brief moment, her eyes brimmed with glassy tears of happiness. Business woman that she is, before falling
too far over the emotional edge, she looked out the window and she shifted in
her dress. “Where’s the limo? It’s supposed to be here by now.” she
said. Tess and I put on our coolest
calm-collected faces. “Oh no
worries. It will be here soon. Everyone is completely ready to go
downstairs.” Tess says. “You know, they
can’t start without you.” I chirped happily.
She shakes her head slightly and then, like a key plot point, she
delivers the line, “Well. . . see the problem is, they have a wedding scheduled
at 11 o’clock and if we are even 20 minutes late, they will cancel our
spot.” I nod once and I’m sure my smile
did not mask my nervousness.
Richard sees his bride for the first time in her dress
Tess and I go
downstairs to witness the big moment when Richard sees Shannon
for the first time. She parades down and
runs her hands over the long skirt to mask her anxiousness of the event. They kiss gently and the admiration in
Richard’s eyes is transparent. The
intimate moment is suspended as Richard’s cell phone rings and Shannon’s
mother steps to her side. The limo is
lost or running tragically behind schedule – it’s not clear to all of us
witnessing the exchange – but what is obvious, is how calmly, intently, and splendidly
professional Richard is speaking to the person on the other end of the
phone. He’s going to fix this disastrous
blunder the limo company has catapulted into this couple’s wedding day, and
potentially – their lives. In America
it wouldn’t quite happen like this.
People would shrug and get in their cars, which are parked outside, and
drive. Insert a majority of car-less
people, trains being a far-too-time-consuming-option, a tiny suburb town, and
you’ve got a logistical crisis of a monstrous size.
Our taxi driver was
an eager and willing participant in the challenge that faced him. “I will get
you there in time to see your friend’s wedding,” he promised with the
seriousness of a wedding vow. He leaned
forward in his seat, barreling our car down the British highway system at
Autobahn speeds, admirably never forgetting to use his turn signal, following
the path that the bride and groom had taken twenty minutes before in a friend’s
borrowed car. As we zoomed past
double-decker busses, our friend Russ received a call. “Tess?
Do you have Shannon’s lipstick?” we all laughed
with relief. “Oh good, Shannon
is on to smaller cosmetic problems. This
is a good sign,” everyone in the car nodded in agreement. With squealing breaks, our car jolted to a halt
outside the ChelseaTown
Hall, Hugh Grant-Notting-Hill-style, with two
minutes to spare.
The room was unlike
anything you’d imagine in a Texas
town hall – floor-to-ceiling-silk draperies, plush velvet chairs, and sparkling
chandeliers. The guests were giddy with
excitement – a combination of adrenaline and caffeine, and we quickly found our
seats and awaited the ceremony.
Shannon and Richard
walked down the aisle together - symbolic of their past, present, and future. The entire ceremony lasted twenty minutes,
but it was heartfelt and to the point.
We all applauded the kiss and signing of the nuptials. The
wedding party need not be worried of us overstepping our time slot.
Fancy French Dinner
After the ceremony
we celebrated. Sipping champagne in a
hummer limo while passing by Westminster Abby, Big Ben, and other iconic London
landmarks will forever be ingrained in my mind. A 6-course French meal greeted the guests and
the food was heavenly. I had to endure
my table-mates smirking at my choice of Spring Pea Soup over Duck Liver
(despite living in Europe, I just haven’t quite advanced
my pallet that far.), but nothing could deter me from savoring every bite. The
champagne and wine flowed, the food appeared and disappeared course after
course to the happy pleasure of everyone.
Toasts were sung “To Love!” - Richard’s daughter announced prompting
approving applause from everyone in the room.
But beyond the spotlight celebration, what I loved most about the day
was observing the couple on their wedding day unscripted. I watched with interest the loving and
intimate way they nodded, smiled, and chatted unrehearsed in between courses –
engaging in conversation that no one else was able to hear. I loved seeing Richard’s children take turns
sitting on his knee and seeing the affection he so unabashedly feels towards
them. I appreciated that the couple’s
main goal was to make sure that everyone have a good time and how it was
achieved by the elegant production:
props of crystal glasses, characters of superb wait staff, and a setting
of dining under canopy of branches heavy with delicate pink cherry blossoms.
Walking into the ceremony together
The next day, I was
treated to more spontaneous observations during the relaxing day-after events:
dropping her parents off at the airport, lunch at an English Pub (yes, I
ordered the fish and chips because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?),
and a languid walk under the shining sun in the woods. I loved seeing them interact. If there’s anything that gives you joy and
hope for the world, it’s seeing a couple on their first day of marriage. “Thank you so much! I totally feel like I crashed your first day
of your married life together. I mean, I
am – but thank you!” She shrugged and
explained that they were taking the next day off as well – the honeymoon to be
decided later. As I exited the car, Shannon
leaned over in the front passenger seat and reached her right arm out to stroke
the back of Richard’s head. “I’ve told
him, but I’ll tell you, too. Life’s not
going to be easy. But I’d rather go
through all the crap with him. . . than to live a different life without
him.” I smiled, thinking of the phone
call to the limo company and how, in the midst of the chaotic moments they
can’t control, they stayed calm, smiling admirably and confidently at each
other. Life may not turn out how they
envisioned, no one’s ever does - but with each other’s daily doses of support,
dedication, and love – I know their world will be a joyful and peaceful place